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May 11, 2018 11:11 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Two Westhampton Beach High School Students Work To Place Wind Turbine On District Grounds

Jane Alavez and Mai Nguyen-Jeanneret, the vice-president and president of Classmates United in Restoring the Environment. ELSIE BOSKAMP
May 15, 2018 2:08 PM

At just 17 years old, both Mai Nguyen-Jeanneret and Jane Alavez, upperclassmen at Westhampton Beach High School, are committed to protecting the environment. Mai and Jane, the president and vice president, respectively, of Classmates United in Restoring the Environment, or CURE, the school’s environmental club, are working with community leaders and renewable energy specialists in an effort to place a wind turbine at the elementary school.

Apart from lobbying for the installation of the wind turbine, Jane and Mai also said they hope to expand recycling efforts throughout the district, and work diligently to educate other students in the district about environmental issues.

“I’ve never been more headstrong about a topic like this before,” Jane said, smiling, referring to the turbine. “We have a duty to protect the environment and do something about it. Even if we’re teenagers, we can still do a lot.”

According to Jane, who joined CURE as a freshman, the group is aiming to raise $30,000 from local residents and businesses to make their plans a reality. So far, they have raised about $4,000.

Inspired by past installations of solar panels on the high school, Jane and Mai took the initiative and, earlier this year, began planning for a wind turbine. “We knew solar energy was a good form of alternative energy, but we also knew wind power was very important as well,” said Mai, a resident of Westhampton Beach.

The turbine is expected to function in a similar fashion to the solar panels, which feed 55 kilowatts of solar energy into the school’s power grid, according to Jok Kommer, a longtime science teacher at the high school and an advisor to CURE, who added, “It’s meant to reduce the overall consumption of fuel.”

It’s still unclear exactly how much the wind turbine would save the district in electricity bills, Jane said.

Mai and Jane said they hope to place the turbine either on the roof of the elementary school or in one of the nearby fields, depending on wind patterns and district needs.

Brian Tymann, a consultant for R&B Quality Electric in Patchogue and a Westhampton Beach Village Board member, is helping with the site selection and working with the turbine manufacturer to determine which location would allow for the production of the most wind energy.

For Mai, placing the turbine at the elementary school is essential, because “we really want the elementary school students to see it, since they’re our future innovators.”

If they can find the funding, the turbine could be installed as early as this June.

“From an installation and product standpoint, that would go quickly. It’s just a question of when we have the money,” said Mr. Tymann. “Ideally, we would love to have something together before the end of the school year.”

Sponsorships and donations for the turbine will be recognized in an official ceremony and through plaques placed around the turbine, or in a specified area on district grounds, according to Mr. Tymann.

Jane said she hopes that the placement of the turbine will help make the school’s renewable energy efforts more viable and apparent to students.

“I just want them to realize that we all have a part to play, and there’s bigger things going on than just ourselves,” she said. “There’s a whole planet to worry about, and there are problems that we need to address.”

Both Mai and Jane are dedicated to educating the younger generation about environmental issues, and have gone to classrooms to read books about the environment, talk about recycling and celebrate the Earth.

“We want to influence the smaller kids so that by the time they get to high school, they know what’s important,” said Jane, a resident of Quogue. “And we really need them to be aware of why recycling is important.”

The recycling program in the high school was developed and is managed by CURE. Club members collect paper and plastic recyclables daily from bins in each classroom. Although there is a small group of students who work to do the same in the elementary school, according to Jane and Mai, recycling efforts in the middle and elementary schools need improvement.

“As a solid system, it’s only in the high school right now,” Mai said. “We want to make our recycling program district-wide, and hopefully that will get us recycling everywhere on campus.”

Before graduating in 2019, Mai and Jane hope to see blue and green recycling bins in all district classrooms, and a fully functioning wind turbine near the elementary school.

According to both Jane and Mai, community involvement has always been strong in CURE’s initiatives and events, like its 30-hour famine, an annual event where students fast for 30-hours to raise awareness and funds for world hunger, and area beach clean-ups, which are held multiple times per year. “We have people who want to help,” Jane said.

After graduating next year, Jane and Mai plan to continue addressing environmental issues.

Mai intends to study pre-med and help to organize fundraisers and environmental programs through involvements with clubs and associations. Jane hopes to use art as a platform for change, combing creativity with environmental activism.

Both CURE members said they plan to continue their efforts to restore and protect the environment throughout their lives.

“Spending time in this club made us realize how important it is and made us feel like we have a duty to protect the environment and do something about it,” Jane said. “It changed how we look at the world.”

As Jane and Mai work to finalize the wind turbine and recycling efforts throughout the district, they’re looking to the future.

“Whenever I see a college that doesn’t have a recycling program, I’m, like, ‘I’m going to fix that—just wait till I go there!’” Jane said, laughing.

“Yeah,” Mai said, agreeing with Jane. “I’m definitely looking at schools that have a say with environmental things. I want to arrange stuff and make things happen and show the world what I can do.”

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